Montana State University

Potential health consequences of open-pit mining in Butte to be discussed at Oct. 1 Café Scientifique

September 23, 2015 -- MSU News Service

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Montana Tech associate professor of biochemistry Katie Hailer will speak at Montana State University’s upcoming Café Scientifique.

Hailer will present “Peering down the Pit: Assessing Human Metal Accumulations near an Urban Superfund Site” at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 1, at the Baxter Hotel Ballroom in downtown Bozeman. The event is free and open to the public.

Butte is home to approximately 35,000 residents living adjacent to one of the largest concentrated areas of environmental contamination in the United States. While the decommissioned Berkeley Pit copper mine has garnered national attention as a Superfund site, fewer people are as aware that other open-pit mines continue to operate in close proximity to Butte’s urban population, according to Hailer. To date, most scientific research has focused on assessing water and soil contamination related to past decades of mining. Hailer’s talk will instead focus on current mining operations’ ongoing effects on air pollution and soil contamination and the potential health consequences for local residents.

Hailer’s presentation will cover her research methodology and her preliminary data, including finding statistically higher levels of copper, manganese and molybdenum in Butte residents compared to a control group in Bozeman. She will also discuss follow-up research conducted in 2014 and 2015, which revealed elevated levels of copper, manganese, lead, selenium and zinc in Butte residents.

Hailer hopes to conduct further research into how chronic exposure to metal mixtures might play a role in activating dormant genetic medical conditions. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a component of the National Institutes of Health, lists metal exposure as an environmental risk factor linked to neurodegenerative disorders like dementia. The role of metals in neurodegeneration is a rapidly expanding field of scientific research involving contributions from molecular genetics, biochemistry, and biometal imaging.

Hailer is an associate professor of biochemistry at Montana Tech of the University of Montana. She received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from West Virginia University and a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Montana. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., before teaching at Winona State University from 2007-2009. Hailer joined Montana Tech’s chemistry department in 2010.

Café Scientifique, co-sponsored by Montana's INBRE and COBRE programs, provides a relaxed setting for people to learn about current scientific topics. The concept started in England in 1998 and has spread to a handful of locations in the United States. Following a short presentation by a scientific expert, the majority of time is reserved for lively conversation, thoughtful questions and respectful dialog. Refreshments are provided free of charge.

Housed at MSU, Montana INBRE and COBRE are each an Institutional Development Award (IDeA) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under grant numbers P20GM103474 (INBRE) and GM103500 (COBRE).

For more information, contact Laurie Howell at (406) 994-7531 or For more information about the Café Scientifique concept, check the Web at

Contact: Laurie Howell, (406) 994-7531 or